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Nor are unmarried mothers typically in their teens; contrary to all the talk of an epidemic of teenage motherhood, the birthrate among adolescent girls has dropped by nearly half since 1991 and last year hit an all-time low, a public health triumph that experts attribute to better sex education and birth-control methods.

The rise of the cohabiting couple is another striking feature of the evolving American family: From 1996 to 2012, the number jumped almost 170 percent, to 7.8 million from 2.9 million.Factor in four years of college and maybe graduate school, or a parentally subsidized internship with the local theater company, and say hello to your million-dollar bundle of oh joy.As steep as the fertility decline has been, the marriage rate has fallen more sharply, particularly among young women, who do most of the nation’s childbearing.“We’re seeing a class divide not only between the haves and the have-nots, but between the I do’s and the I do nots,” Dr. Those who are enjoying the perks of a good marriage “wouldn’t stand for any other kind,” she said, while those who would benefit most from marital stability “are the ones least likely to have the resources to sustain it.” Yet across the divide runs a white picket fence, our unshakable star-spangled belief in the value of marriage and family. “It means everything,” said Linda Mc Adam, 28, who is in human resources on Long Island. “It’s almost like a weight,” said Rob Fee, 26, a financial analyst in San Francisco, “a heavy weight.” Or as the comedian George Burns said, “Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.” In charting the differences between today’s families and those of the past, demographers start with the kids — or rather the lack of them.We marry, divorce and remarry at rates not seen anywhere else in the developed world. The nation’s birthrate today is half what it was in 1960, and last year hit its lowest point ever.

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